The Monastic Life

The monastery provided Martin Luther with a disciplined life. In fact, Luther was a disciplined man of prayer throughout his life. However, Luther was such a student of the law, he understood that he could not perfectly fulfill the law of God. It troubled him to his soul. He was filled with guilt and driven to discover forgiveness. A forgiveness he would not find in the monastery.

Luther was preoccupied by guilt while he was in the monastery. He would spend long hours in the confessional. He was involved in self-flagellation. He afflicted his body with great pain in order to purge himself of his sinful guilt.

At this time in church history, the church was very corrupt. The clergy were horrible in their ungodliness. Therefore, to enter into a monastery gave a person an inside track to heaven. Luther was hoping he would gain salvation by entering the most rigorous of monasteries.

Luther was asked once if he loved God. Luther responded, “Love God? Sometimes I hate God.” For Martin, there was always the question of guilt. Luther understood the law of God. He knew his soul was exposed to damnation. Luther did not rationalize his guilt. He did not ignore his guilt. The law of God terrified Luther. God terrified Luther.

This terror Luther felt towards God was visibly witnessed by many, including Luther’s family.  This was strikingly evident when Martin celebrated his first mass as an ordained monk. In recognition of this momentous occasion in his son’s life, and perhaps as a way to further reconcile himself to his son, Hans brought his associates to the celebration of the mass.

However, when Martin was at the point of the transubstantiation of the elements, at the prayer of consecration, he froze. He couldn’t speak. Someone else said the prayer for Luther. Hans was embarrassed. When he later approached his son and began berating him, young Martin said to his dad, “Don’t you understand? I was holding the body and blood of Christ. I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken.”

Do we have such a fear when we approach the One, True, and Holy God of the universe? Do we casually come into God’s presence without even a shred of awe and wonder for who He is and what He does? Let each of us examine our hearts and repent of such casualness. I encourage you to read Isaiah 6:1-7.

Soli deo Gloria!

A Violent Thunderstorm

When encountering a violent thunderstorm in July 1505 as he was traveling, young Martin Luther was knocked to the ground by a nearby strike of a lightning bolt.  Fearing for his soul and believing that this was a sign from God, he cried out, “Help me, St. Anne, I will become a monk.”

Luther moved into the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt. It was known as the most rigorous of the Augustinian monasteries. When entering the monastery, the monks asked Luther what he wanted. He said, “I seek God’s grace and your mercy.”

Luther’s father, Hans, was furious at his son for going into the monastery. He was disappointed that Martin would not become a lawyer thereby enjoying a salary which would help the family financially. However, for Martin the making of money was not nearly as important as was the salvation of his soul.

You must understand that then, and now, salvation according to the Catholic Church is not a declaration by God and appropriated by God-given faith in the person and completed work of Christ. Rather, salvation is a rigorous process of one’s own righteous works in which you can never be certain you have done enough to avert hell, avoid purgatory and enter heaven.

Still there was hope that while salvation was difficult, it was not impossible. The rigors of monastic life included renouncing self-will, living on a meager diet, rough clothing, vigils day and night, working during the day, and the mortification of the flesh, the reproach of poverty, the shame of begging and the distastefulness of a secluded existence.

Luther renounced his past, and entered into the monastic life. He was given a cell. He then began to pursue his peace with God.

We often hear the expression that a person, who has recently died, has made their peace with God. However, the Bible says that we do not make our peace with God, but rather God makes His peace with us, through the substitutionary atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-5).

In who or what are you trusting in for the salvation of your immortal soul? The only hope is Jesus Christ. Repent of your sins right now and trust Jesus to be your Lord and Savior (John 1:12-13).

Soli deo Gloria!

The Dream of Hans

Upon earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University at Erfurt, young Martin Luther was set to begin studies for his doctorate to eventually become a lawyer. His father Hans wanted his son to not only be a lawyer, but also to become a successful lawyer. This would mean that Martin would be able to take care of his parents when they were old.

Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that Luther seemed to encounter a crisis every five years. The first of these “crises” happened in 1505 when an event occurred in which Luther’s life would be irrevocably changed.

Following a visit with his family in Mansfield, Luther was returning to Erfurt. He encountered a violent thunderstorm. Lightning struck so close to him that he feared for his very life. At that moment, he cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners and exclaimed, “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk!”

St. Anne was supposedly the mother of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Superstition during Martin’s day taught that St. Anne would bring protection and prosperity to those who worked in the mines. This was Martin’s theological background.

As Pastor Erwin Lutzer explains, “And so it was—partly to fulfill this vow and, most assuredly, because of his own inner turmoil—that Luther went against his father’s wishes, left the university in Erfurt, and entered the Augustinian monastery in the same city.”

When physically entering the monastery, Martin was asked what he sought. He responded, “God’s grace and your mercy.” Martin would now begin a rigorous and disciplined regimen of living which he hoped would satisfy the longing in his soul. More than anything, Luther sought relief from the guilt he felt because of his sins.

What about you? What rigorous regimen have you pursued to satisfy the longing in your soul? Is it good works, community involvement and financial generosity? Or are you going with whatever works to silence the nagging conviction that you are not right with God.

Repent of your sin and receive Jesus Christ and his righteousness as your own. This is the only way to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) and to satisfy your soul’s longing for peace with God.

Have a blessed day. Soli deo Gloria!

After Darkness, Light!

One of the pictures I have as a desktop background on my laptop computer is the International Monument to the Reformation located in Geneva, Switzerland. It is usually referred to as the Reformation Wall. The motto of the 16th century Protestant Reformation is Post tenbras lux which means “After darkness, light!”

A reformer, or a reformation, is defined as an improvement, a renovation or a reorganization of something which currently exits. A reformer does not seek to destroy the object of his reform. Rather he seeks to either overhaul or restore order where disorder or error has occurred. The reformers themselves considered their work to be a reformation and not a revolution to the church.

Martin Luther, and those who preceded him as well as those who followed him, were seeking to reform and not destroy the church. They saw abuses by the church which needed to be corrected. Not the least of these issues was the question of the ultimate source of authority within the church: the pope or the Scriptures. God would choose Martin Luther to be the preeminent individual to bring these issues to a head.

Martin was born on November 10, 1483 in the German town of Eisleben to Hans and Margarette Luther. He was named Martin because he was born on St. Martin’s Day. Luther lived in an exciting time.  He was 9 years old in 1492 when Columbus discovered America. His parents were German peasants. Luther’s father eventually became a minor in Mansfield and ultimately owned six foundries.

Luther’s childhood was marked by prayer, strict morality, and loyalty to the church and its traditions. It became quickly evident during his childhood that Luther possessed a melancholy personality. He was consumed and driven not only with fits of depression and insecurity, but also with an overwhelming sense of guilt before God because of his sins.

From 1492-1498 he attended school at Mansfield, Magdeburg and Eisenach, where Martin learned Latin. From 1501-1505 he attended the University of Erfurt where he earned his BA in 1502 and his MA in 1505. He was preparing for his doctorate in law. One biographer writes that “young Martin earned both his baccalaureate and master’s degrees in the shortest time allowed by university statutes. He proved so adept at public debates that he earned the nickname The Philosopher.”

Luther was set to be become a lawyer.  His father Hans wanted his son to not only be a lawyer, but also to become a successful lawyer. This would mean that Martin would be able to take care of his parents when they were old.

Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that Luther seemed to encounter a crisis every five years. The first of these “crises” occurred in 1505. It was an event in which Luther’s life would be irrevocably changed.

The 5 Solas

The Protestant Reformation’s enduring legacy, and that of Reformer Martin Luther, centers upon the doctrines of the “solas.” The Reformers believed and taught these five truths and they remain indispensable to the health of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the authentic growth of the church.

Why? It is because these five tenants did not originate with the Reformers of the Reformation. On the contrary, the Reformers rediscovered truth God had given in Scripture and which had long been buried by the church. Therefore, the “solas” are to be continually studied, embraced, taught, and defended as God’s eternal truth in a fallen, temporal, and worldly culture.

A brief description of each “sola” is appropriate.  In April 1996, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals held its first major meeting of evangelical scholars. The Cambridge Declaration, first presented at this meeting, is a call to the evangelical church to turn away from the worldly methods it has come to embrace and to recover the Biblical doctrines of the Reformation. The Cambridge Declaration explains the importance of regaining adherence to the five “solas” of the Reformation. The fine “solas” are as follows:

  • Thesis One: Sola Scriptura
    We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.

 

  • Thesis Two: Solus Christus
    We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.

 

  • Thesis Three: Sola Gratia
    We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques, or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerate human nature.

 

  • Thesis Four: Sola Fide
    We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

 

  • Thesis Five: Soli Deo Gloria
    We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment is allowed to become alternatives to the Gospel.

 

As any Christian should realize, the 16th century Protestant Reformation was anything but a tempest in a teapot. It was a cataclysmic event which shook the then known world, and continues to do so today. May we continue to hold fast to the truths of Scripture, especially the Five Solas.

Be strong and courageous!

Soli deo Gloria!

Profiles of Courage: Martin Luther

A profile is a sketch or a summary of an individual’s life or a brief episode in a person’s life. Courage refers to doing what is right, even when facing opposition. It is synonymous with bravery, nerve, valor, or guts.

Periodically, we will take a brief look at particular individuals in Scripture and church history who profile, or illustrate, a courage and conviction to stand for biblical truth. One such individual is Martin Luther. October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther is a hero of mine. As many of you know, and for those of you who do not, I attended a Lutheran church in metropolitan Detroit as a child. I was baptized as an infant and even confirmed in the Lutheran tradition. When I attended Sunday school as a youth, we not only studied the Scriptures, but also church history, especially the Protestant Reformation in general and Martin Luther in particular.

There are a lot of opinions about Martin Luther, both within the church and also popular culture. In the film, The Bells of St. Mary’s, starring Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley, we witness the following bit of dialogue: Father Chuck O’Malley: [Sister Mary Benedict calls a boy name Luther to recite material] Luther? How’d he get in here? Sister Mary Benedict: We never knew.

Pope Let X called Luther “a wild boar in the vineyard of the Lord.” Pope Leo also responded to Luther’s writings concerning the Catholic Church’s abuses by saying, “Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul comments, “The division of the church that occurred during the Protestant Reformation was not something that the Reformers originally intended to happen. However, when it became clear that the church authorities would be unwilling to submit themselves to the teaching of sacred Scripture, Martin Luther knew that it was necessary to stand against them for the sake of the Gospel.”

Luther was a man that God greatly used. However, even though he was a godly man, we must not forget that as a man, he possessed feet of clay as we all do. We must always remember Luther’s accomplishments, while at the same time never forgetting his shortcomings. Much like ourselves, he was all too sinfully human, but he met, was saved and was used by an awesome and gracious God.

Pastor Burk Parson explains, “Ultimately, the Word of God was the hero of the Reformation, not Luther. The power was not in Martin Luther or John Calvin or any of the Reformers – the power was the gospel unto salvation for everyone who believes. The fuel and the fire of the Reformation was the Holy Spirit who brought revival and reformation not only in doctrine, but in worship, in the church, in the home, and in the hearts of all those He brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ – all for the glory of God to the end that the nations might know, love and proclaim the name of our triune God coram Deo, before His face forever.”

Soli deo Gloria!

The Word, The Gospel, & Preaching

“And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:25).

The Apostle Peter was concerned with three primary things, according to I Peter 1:25, for the believers to whom He was writing. So should the church today. These three things were the Word, the good news of the gospel, and preaching.

The Word is the Greek word ῥῆμα, rhema, which is a particular portion or unit of Scripture. Peter was adamant that the source of our preaching/teaching must be a portion taken from the Bible. In the context, the word which literally belongs to and comes from the Lord, which refers us to Isaiah 40.

The particular portion, or topic, to which the apostle was concerned was the good news of the gospel. The phrase “good news” (εὐαγγελίζω; euangelizo) is the good news that God exists, sin exists, One Savior exists and salvation exists by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

This good news is to be preached. Inherent in the word euangelizo, or good news, is that this gospel is to be announced. Its message is not to be changed or altered in anyway and is to be communicated with our entire being. This is the message for which Peter, and the Apostle Paul, among many others were martyred. It is the treasure for which God has entrusted to our care (2 Corinthians 4).

May these three primary components of the early church be found in our churches, beloved. It anything else becomes the reason for which we do ministry, we have lost the biblical vision from God.

Soli deo Gloria!

Good News

“And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:25).

Whether you are a pastor of a local church, a missionary serving the Lord where He has called you, a Sunday school teacher who faithfully prepares each week to deliver a lesson to children or adults, a youth volunteer who drives a bus for an activity, or someone involved in another facet of church, or para-church ministry, God has called each of us to communicate God’s Word. The Bible is to be the focus of all we do for the Lord.

Recently, ministries have tried various ways to attract various numbers of people. High energy music will build a church some say. Others opt for sensational and exciting events to draw a crowd. Zip lining anyone? Still others maintain the fog machines, dark walls in the auditorium, elaborate platform lighting and pastors dressed in skinny jeans and t-shirts is what ministry is all about.

I have recently spoken to several friends of mine who are involved in traveling music ministries. These people are committed to having a Bible based ministry. Yet, they have told me that throughout the country, they see churches making decisions which trouble them. They have seen crosses removed from church auditoriums and various other things I have already made mention for the singular purpose of attracting more people. In short, the philosophy of ministry has become “the ends justify the means.”

Even more than the change in architectural or worship service styles and activities, many church leaders are moving toward a philosophy that the Scriptures no longer are the primary focus of ministry. Whatever is done does not have to be in submission to Scripture. Therefore, services are held, and decisions are made by church leadership, that may even be disobedient to the Scriptures.

The Apostle Peter was concerned with three primary things, according to I Peter 1:25, for the believers to whom He was writing. So should the church today. These three things were the Word, the good news or the gospel, and preaching.

May these primary components of the early church be found in our churches, beloved.

Soli deo Gloria!

Remaining Forever

24 “for all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25).

The truth Peter shares is not solely from his inspired mind. The apostle in vs. 24-25 echoes what the Prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 40:6-8.

Perhaps this epiphany occurs at different times for different people, but as I entered  my sixth decade on this planet I realized that the time I have yet to live on earth is less than that what I have already lived. Sobering thought. The lyrics from the Broadway Musical Fiddler on the Roof rush to the forefront of my mind: “Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years.”

The Prophet Isaiah heralds the message from God that all flesh or life, may be compared to the grass or flowers of the field. No matter how hearty or beautiful they are, they both wither and die. So it is with people; no matter who they are.

The turning point to this humbling, stop me in my tracks, realization is that there remains on this earth one certainty. That certainty is that “the word of the Lord remains forever.” Every promise God has made, every truth He has revealed will never falter or fail. They will endure because God endures, and because God endures, all those who are in Christ will also live for eternity with Christ.

This life here on earth will soon come to an end for all of us. The only question is where, when and how. But for those in Christ, the conclusion of life here on earth translates to the commencement of life forever in heaven. This is what God has promised and His word stands forever.

May this cause each of us to live today with eternity in view.

Soli deo Gloria!

Born Again Through the Living Word

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”(I Peter 1:22-23).

Holy living requires a heart which desires purity. Psalm 119:9 says, ““How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word.” You cannot have one without the other. It is cause and effect. Obedience to God and His Word results in purity and holiness of soul and body. This is to be a daily discipline.

The reason for this discipline Peter speaks of in vs. 22 is because God has regenerated our souls, vs. 23. We have been born again (John 3:1-8). God has given us a new birth through the preaching of the gospel (John 1:12-13). The cause for any real change in our lives is because God has given us a spiritual re-birth.

This is not a mortal or physical birth which eventually results in physical death. Rather, this is a spiritual birth which is imperishable (ἄφθαρτος; aphthartos) or immortal. It will never die.

Lest there any confusion as to how this new birth occurs, Peter makes sure we understand that our new birth is only by or through the living and abiding word of God. God’s Word, or truth, is actively alive and eternal (Hebrews 4:12). The Apostle Paul declared that faith in Christ came by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Our entrance into the kingdom of God is solely a work of God. Our obedience once we are a member of the kingdom is a cooperative work between us and God. In either situation, God receives all the glory (Galatians 6:14; I Corinthians 10:31-33).

Soli deo Gloria!